A new type of electronic system that tracks and analyses a reader’s eye movements is able to ‘quantify’ and assess reading habits.
In the era of the Quantified Self it has become quite easy to assess and manage one’s quality of life, smartphone apps for nutrition and activity performance tracking currently being the most popular. But this phenomenon is not restricted to the well-being sphere; it is now being extended to the cognitive field. Just as ‘wearable’ accessories such as the Fitbit and FuelBand bracelets enable you to count the number of calories you have burned and the number of steps you have taken, their lexicographical equivalents should soon be on the market. This, at least, is what Kai Kunze, a Faculty Member at the Department of Computer Science and Intelligent Systems at Osaka Prefecture University in Japan, is trying to develop with his ‘cognitive activity tracking’ technology, which can tell how many words we are reading and how fast, and whether we are actually concentrating on the content or just skimming through.
Technology enabling cognitive activity recognition
This kind of analysis, which is based on an advanced eye-tracking approach, could have practical uses in helping a person to improve his/her reading performance. In tests on volunteers wearing infrared eye-tracking glasses, Professor Kunze’s team found that the software succeeded in counting the number of words read with an accuracy of about 94%, and could also tell how fast you were reading, purely by looking at the movement of the eyes. The process is based on electro-oculography (EOG), an alternative to electro-encephalography (EEG) – which the Japanese researchers regard as too noisy and too time-consuming. Their experiments also showed that the way your eyes move to follow the layout of a document very much depends on the type of material you are reading. The system was thus able to discern with great accuracy whether a reader was perusing a university textbook, a newspaper, glossy magazine or a novel.
Enabling ‘active reading’ on screen?
The ‘cognitive activity tracker’ can give readers feedback on the amount of time it is taking them to absorb different types of information or get through a study text. The smart glasses can also be programmed to provide metrics on how much time you are spending on leisure reading instead of working. As a next step Kai Kunze is hoping to find a way to transpose ‘active reading’, whereby a reader takes notes or underlines passages in a document – which you normally do on paper – to the screens of electronic devices. In this way, cognitive activity recognition technology might help to revolutionise our reading experience by altering the presentation or format of editorial content dynamically, e.g. adapting the typeface to the reader’s mood, inserting multimedia content when his/her attention starts to fade, or similar enhancements.